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he 70s are known to be one of the wildest decades when it comes to people going “over the moon” whilst having fun. It was the time when people needed drugs, alcohol, and sex to have fun and this was most predominant within the rich, the famous, and the egocentric. This demographic is what made up the exclusive population that would go crazy beyond any limits within Studio 54.

This disco nightclub was the hottest place on Earth as described by many celebrities who ventured there in their youth and saw pretty much anything a human can see in their life within the walls of this well-known establishment.

Exclusivity was the only way to keep all the illegal stuff going on in the club away from the eye of the New York PD as well as away from the eyes of newspapers that were able to turn the career of any person walking in the club around with one picture. For that reason, the club owners didn’t allow anyone “unknown” to enter.

However, Studio 54 didn’t just pop out of the blue, it has quite a history behind it.

The history behind Studio 54

The logo of the nightclub
The logo of the nightclub (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Studio 54, located at 254 West 54th Street Manhattan in New York, was many different things before becoming the famous disco nightclub. The building was first constructed in 1927 as an Opera House which operated until 1942 when CBS bought the building and turned it into a television studio named Studio 52, representing their 52nd studio across America.

It was only in 1977 that CBS moved their studio and two entrepreneurs by the name of Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager decided to buy the building and turn it into a disco nightclub, but leaving the studio aesthetic, the reason why the name was changed to Studio 54, representing the 54th street on Manhattan where it was located.

On the 26th of April, 1977, the club opened its doors for the first time with an amazing hype built up, not only due to its location but because of the guest list that was prepared for months in advance, filled up with celebrities.

A normal weekend night at studio 54 in 1979
A normal weekend night at studio 54 in 1979 (Source: Rare Historical Photos)

The idea of the two owners and founders of the club was to create the most exclusive place in New York and if possible, in the world, which they kind of achieved. In order to get into the club, you either needed a bank account with at least six 0s or to be famous in some way. The dress code was also very important as some nights the people attending would have to dress in a certain way.

Collage of celebrities that have been at the club in the 1970s
Collage of celebrities that have been at the club in the 1970s (Source: RareHistoricalPhotos)

From Michael Jackson to Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Madonna, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Calvin Klein, Tina Turner, Truman Capote, Cher, John Travolta, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and many others were there almost every week, so you can imagine the sort of party that would take place with these characters.

The sex room

Freedom to do pretty much anything was the idea of Studio 54. The controversial era of the 70s regarding the freedom for minorities and people who present different sexual preferences was at the center of the club’s marketing scheme. This is why the place welcomed gays, especially at a time when the gay community was not seen so well due to the AIDS epidemic at the time.

The sex room was an orgy chamber where everyone would go to enjoy themselves a little bit more. This was probably also the place where you could get the most selective STDs in the world. This room was invented by Steve Rubell as he was gay and he wanted to offer space for people to have fun without others judging. The moans from sexual acts were just like the music club, only in the background.

Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller in the “rubber room” at studio 54, 1978
Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller in the “rubber room” at studio 54, 1978 (Source: Scentuary)

There was even a more special room in studio 54 called the “rubber room” as it was just made out of rubber so it is easier to clean any fluids from its visitors. Some people claimed that members would even have sex on the balcony of the studio with pedestrians watching. The members of the club were so hooked up on drugs that they simply did not care what people would think about them.

The crazy world around Studio 54

Other ordinary people were craving to enter the club and some saw an opportunity to scam people. These scammers were selling New Yorkers maps that were leading to the Studio through some underground metro tunnels for thousands of dollars. It is true that there are some hidden tunnels in the New York underground system, but Studio 54 wasn’t connected to any.

A man was found dead in these tunnels, wearing a tuxedo and with the fake map in his hand, it seemed that the man was ready to go clubbing, but sadly slipped into the dangerous tunnels and died whilst looking for the fake entrance to the club.

The business run by the two owners was quite a dogy, just like many other businesses within New York at the time and due to this in 1978 their license to sell alcohol was suspended. The members of the club were not very upset about this as the drugs were more than enough of a substitute. The club even hired a man that was designated to draw cocaine lines for people to sniff.

“The key to a good party is filling a room with guests more interesting than you.” (Quote by Steve Rubell)

As a business, the club was one of the most successful not only in New York but probably in the world as only in the first year from opening, the club made over seven million dollars worth of profit. Rubell said in an interview that only the mafia made that much money besides them in New York City at the time.

In front of Studio 54 when the club was raided by police in 1981
In front of Studio 54 when the club was raided by police in 1981 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Due to the love for money, the owners of the club decided not to pay any taxes and this is what leads to an investigation coordinated by the FBI in 1981. The same year the club was shut down as the two owners were arrested for tax evasion of around three million dollars. When the raid took place the FBI also found out where all the drugs in New York City were hiding. From the reports, it was estimated that the police confiscated over 30 kilograms of cocaine and many other different types of drugs.

Rubell and Schrager were given four years of prison each, but before going to prison they threw one last big party at the club ending an era that for many was the best years of their lives.

The empire built by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager which truly represented the 70s only lasted for 33 months, but in those months the members of the club had more fun than most people have in a lifetime. The lifestyle of the members was pretty much a showcase of money, drugs, sex, and opulence.

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